The Uighurs, a nine million Muslim minority, residing in Eastern Turkistan in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, are one of the worst abused people at the hands of the Chinese regime.
In contrast to worldwide awareness of problems in Tibet, the Western media and politicians give little attention to these people's dilemmas. This might be due to cleverly manipulated Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, making people believe the Uighurs are allied with a network of Al Qaeda operatives.
The Uighurs have now chosen a spokesperson who shares the same charisma as the Tibetan leader—Rebiya Kadeer, once China's wealthiest woman. She was a respected businesswoman back in the 1990s and was elected to speak before the National People's Congress in Beijing on behalf of the Xinjiang Region. She chose not to hide her people's plight before the Chinese leadership and eventually found herself in solitary confinement in a Xinjiang forced labor camp, in China. Her ordeal lasted six years. She would hear agonizing screams from youths in neighboring cells whose will the abusers tried to break.
She is untiringly championing the cause of her people, in spite of threats and intimidation for those of her eleven children who had opted to remain in Xinjiang. [Please see addendum at the end of this interview]
The Uighur World Congress took place in Berlin, Germany between April 21 and 23, 2008. Rebiya Kadeer spoke with us about the plight of the Uighurs, her hopes, her views on the international community, and the parallels between her country and Tibet.
Epoch Times (ET): Why do so few Western media outlets report about the Uighurs and so much about Tibet?
Rebiya Kadeer (RK): The main reason is the Dalai Lama, who had raised so much awareness in the West these past years. He was fortunate to flee with some of his people and his government. Since he is also the Tibetan spiritual head, people recognized him as Tibet’s leader.
For us, the Soviets coerced the Uighur leadership to negotiate with Mao, and they were supposed to fly to mainland China. There were assertions the plane had exploded, and seven Uighur leaders—the president and other ministers—were killed. Since then, the Soviets/Chinese control our territory. Our political administration was unable to flee.
Following that, the Chinese regime dispersed all other Uighurs who could have become leaders, making it impossible to select one overall leader for all the worldwide Uighur organizations.
The Chinese regime had dispatched numerous spies and informants in this game of "Divide and Conquer." But this time, following China's severe, grave suppression, the Uighurs have decided to unite. The international community and media had shown Tibet enough interest during the past few years. I am now the voice for the Uighurs.
Following the Tibetan protests, mostly Uighur women staged peaceful protests in Hotan on March 23 and 24. The Uighurs are convinced that should Tibet become free, we will also become free! Although the general public is largely unaware of our plight, politicians and scientists know of our dilemma. Even China looks upon us as a sensitive/delicate problem to deal with.
ET: What has it been like since the protests?
RK: Right now the circumstances are horrible. Chinese agents hunt down Uighurs and incarcerate them. Sometimes these CCP people go house-to-house, searching—abominable!
ET: Were there other recent demonstrations in East-Turkistan?
RK: Uighurs have protested the Chinese regime since the CCP had occupied our nation. The head judge of the highest court declared during a January 18, 2008 conference that there were 1,013 instances of unrest. That shows that similar protests have happened. The official line is that these were all "anti-government or separatists' activities."
ET: Forty-five Uighurs were arrested and accused of having planned terrorist activities; what is your opinion?
RK: Because of the events in Tibet, China has lost her credibility around the world. The world pays much attention to China. Now, China aims to draw attention away from herself.
Concurrently, the Chinese people focus on the regime's action at home, because the CCP hopes to direct the population's attention and sentiments toward [a new-found] nationalism, away from the regime's problems. The best "out" the regime had was the Uighurs. The regime once again deceived the Chinese population into believing Uighurs were terrorists, creating the whole story by concocting this ploy.
Initially, the Chinese regime insisted the airplane explosion and death of the Uighur politicians was factual, but never provided any evidence or proof. Following that, they arrested 45 of us, claiming these 45 wanted to abduct foreign journalists, reporters, and tourists. The CCP regime attempted to make these 45 of our countrymen appear to be like Bin Laden followers.
The anti-terrorist effort is a worldwide quest. That would have demanded of the CCP regime to prompt an international investigation to determine if these suspected terrorists are what the regime claimed them to be.
Nevertheless, the Uighurs are banned from ever engaging legal representation to defend themselves against unfounded accusations. The Chinese regime would extract confessions under torture, to make the unjustly accused confess things they had never done; even Uighurs detained at Guantanamo were found innocent! If the 45 in question were tried according to international law, I am convinced they would be found innocent.
ET: What could the West do to help Uighur?
RK: My hope for the long run is for the international community to consider our problem the way the Tibetan situation is handled. The international community could send investigation teams and reporters to discover what is happening with the Uighurs; to urge the Chinese during bilateral dialogue to respect our rights; to have Western leaders meet with us and express their empathy with our plight; to negotiate with the Chinese regime for a peaceful solution to our concerns. It would be marvelous if Western nations could dispatch teams to inspect our prisons and execution chambers; to witness how Chinese nationals torture and execute our people. The world needs to know!
Following incarceration at the hands of Chinese Communist rulers for allegedly having connections to national separatist activities, Ms. Kadeer was released into U.S. custody on March 15, 2005 and has since lived in Washington, D.C. with her family, except for her children who are still in Xinjiang, as mentioned in the above article.